This is a serious question. During times of mass corona-testing, dental services have been closed and dentists and their assistants redeployed to people test stations. But this information hasn’t been made public. Instead, you only discover that dental services have been suspended if you need your teeth checked, can’t get an appointment, and then someone explains the situation to you. Otherwise, there’s just a black hole where the dentist used to be.
Both in China and abroad, much ink and digital text has been dedicated to extreme cases of people being unable to get emergency medical care. However, the redeployment of dental workers illustrates how regular healthcare has been (indefinitely? until further notice?) suspended in order to mobilize workers to meet the need for personal to give tests. Annual check-ups can’t be booked, for example, if your dentist is busy swabbing throats instead of filling cavities. This situation illustrates one of the challenges to navigating Shenzhen’s current management of the omicron outbreak–there have been no comprehensive announcements of how city resources have been re-deployed to achieve zero-Covid. This means that you find out what’s been closed or redeployed through unexpected encounters with a new normal that has not been formally acknowledged.
Quote unquote “everyone” agrees that the city is open, that Shenzhen is handling Covid-19 better than Shanghai, and that if we just hold the line everything will return to normal. But. Everyday, we encounter operational blackholes and changing policies. So are we to trust our experience or not? But. But. One case in a city of 20 million isn’t anywhere near a representative sample. So do we follow along with the chorus because our experience is just a drop in a large, large ocean? And but. But. But. But. Many city services are still available, including food supply, water and electricity. We can still enjoy an afternoon espresso. So why whine, when the city is already doing a great job under the circumstances?
The gap between official accounts and popular social media posts about the situation in Shanghai further exacerbates this sense that one’s perspective is somehow incomplete or completely off. Shanghai City says everything is under control. Millions of posts have claimed hunger, insufficient medical care, and unreliable enforcement of zero-Covid. Moreover, this gap has continued to widen despite efforts to dismiss unfavorable and critical reports as “rumors” and insinuations that to complain about zero-Covid is an act of treason.
Today I’m thinking that lack of information about how the city is actually operating constitutes a form of structural gaslighting. In theory, the city is open. However, in practice, one bumps into these blackholes of suspended urban services. Many residents have accepted that they need to take care of themselves, family and friends if they are to make it through the outbreak. However, the disruption of basic health makes it more difficult to do so, heightening the low grade anxiety that seems to permeate everyday transactions throughout the city.